Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Today's Moment of Serenity

Dream in the Apennines by Samuel Palmer (1864).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Doranna Durgin

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Doranna Durgin interview

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Doranna Durgin: I didn’t “come to be” a writer—I was always a writer.  I put my first little book together in first grade and never stopped, and wrote my first novel in 7th grade (Illustrated.  About a Collie, if you must know.)  At that point I was writing daily by hand (in very particular lined notebooks with very particular pencils that I didn’t give up until I realized that pencil fades) and submitting with the naïve confidence of youth.  I didn’t switch to the typewriter until after college, and boy howdy, you should have seen me when I sat down in front of my first word processor (Atari!).

I guess the point is, I started and I never stopped.  I don’t suppose I ever will.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

DD: Oh, there was no way I wasn’t going to stump Kelyn, my straightforward sword & sorcery heroine, with social strictures and subtleties—especially not when I’m in the middle of writing a sequel (Rings of Ranadir) for her first book (Wolverine’s Daughter).  I figured it would be gleeful rubbing-hands-together fun, and it was!  There might be some sly thoughtfulness in there, too. I’m not saying.

DJR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?
DD: I write what I do because it’s all inside me, and possibly I would explode if I didn’t find a way to let it out.  And I also write what I do because authors before me have made me feel the wonder of their worlds, and I want more than anything to share the wonders I feel from my stories, too.  And I write because I want to explore and reveal things I think are important—things we’ve forgotten about our world, through alternative lenses.

How my work differs as I go about that is, I think, a reflection of how and where I’ve always lived—I’m an environmental ed major and former park naturalist who’s always lived as close to the real world as possible.  Once upon a time, that meant a log cabin on a hundred acres of Appalachian mountainside where I interacted with more critters than humans.  Since then I’ve immersed myself in the land on SW Virginia farm acreage (and spent my summers sleeping in a wee tent anyway) followed by rural high altitude desert foothills.  Always close to my animals—horses and dogs--and training them, an avocation that led me to the current pack of four that includes the most highly performance-titled Beagle breed champion in the nation and two more who are right on his heels.  I think this immersion—combined with a neurosensory syndrome—provides a framework for my work that likely differs from other approaches.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?
DD: My writing is in a transition phase.  I’ve recently stepped away from traditional publishing—bought out a contract when publisher restrictions meant I couldn’t do with the book what the book needed done.  Now I have so many projects on my list, it’s hard to know where to go first.  But there will be more for Kelyn, definitely a return to fantasy and a number of heart books that have been waiting, and more for Dale & Sully (a mystery series with a vet and his Beagle companion that I swear, I started before I actually had Beagles.  The prescience of me).  I also recently released the third book in the Reckoners trilogy on top of significantly enhanced Author’s Cuts of the first two books.  I love, love, love that indie publishing has allowed me to do this, after nearly fifty traditional books’ worth of bowing to publisher roadmaps.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
DD: The same advice I’ve always given, even as the market changes: Write lots of what you’re driven to write, know the market, know the different publishing paths, and know which choice is best for you before you make it.  Set your sights first, then figure out your plan for getting there, and then go after it.

Doranna Durgin is an award-winning author whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive
publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided.

Friday, January 26, 2018

In Troubled Times: George Washington on Political Parties and the Abuse of Power

In light of the political events of recent times, I offer these words from George Washington's highly prescient Farewell Address.

United States 19th September 1796
Friends, & Fellow--Citizens.

I have already intimated to you the danger of Parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, & warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseperable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controuled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot & insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence & corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true--and in Governments of a Monarchical cast Patriotism may look with endulgence, if not with favour, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate & assuage it. A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Heather Rose Jones

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories.Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Heather Rose Jones: I’ve been writing in some form or another most of my life, whether stories, songs, or poetry. I’ve always loved working with language. So it’s hard to point to any particular time point or process of “becoming a writer.” It’s a bit easier to talk about how I came to be a published writer. For that, I got a solid push by getting to know various other published science fiction and fantasy authors in the SF Bay Area, whic got me used to the idea that it was a possible thing to move from having written something to getting it published. My first short stories appeared in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series back in the 1990s. I was working on some novels at that time that still sit in file folders, but my first published book series is one I didn’t start working on until after I’d finished my mid-life PhD and decided I needed an entirely new approach to my fiction writing.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

HRJ: “Gifts Tell Truth” is set in the same world as my Alpennia series: a mildly alternate Ruritanian early 19th century with magic. One of the things I love to do when exploring characters it to make offhand references to events in their past. Events where I may not know all the details of what happened, just that it shaped them in some way. One thing that is very clear about Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, one of the protagonists of The Mystic Marriage and a continuing character throughout the series, is that she is a “Woman With A Past.” The more I write about her, the more fascinated I am by how she came to be the person she is in the novels.

The events in “Gifts Tell Truth” haven’t been specifically referenced in the books, other than a passing comment about how the stories of her youth aren’t appropriate for innocent ears. But I knew in a general way that during the French occupation of Alpennia, just after Jeanne’s unexpected marriage to a much older French aristocratic émigré, she led a wild and scandalous life, spurred on by a tragic event in her coming-out season (which will be told in a later story). The current story grew out of wanting to explore the origins of some of her later attitudes and reflexes, with the added bonus of showing the start of an odd but enduring friendship that features in the novels.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

HRJ: I always have a hard time talking about influences. It’s not that I don’t think I have them, or that I think I’m a “self-made” writer, but I spent so many years simply devouring so many good (and not so good) books that I don’t know that I could identify my conscious influences. It’s a bit like the majority of my historic background research: I’m constantly tossing material into the compost heap, and when I need the fertilizer to grow a story in, there it is, but it’s digested and changed. If we’re talking about stylistic influences, the only ones I can point to with any certainty are the short stories I’ve written in imitation of various genres of medieval literature.

But I can identify some writers who inspire me in terms of the shape of their career. Writers who are being a direct inspiration by encouraging me when I feel like the publishing world doesn’t have a place I fit into. That would be people like Kate Elliott and Beth Bernobich and Melissa Scott. I’m going to stop with the first three that came to mind because otherwise I’ll worry too much about who I’m leaving out. The non-author who most inspires my writing is the proprietor of the website People of Color in European Art History. Just as she is doing with people of color, I’m trying to write queer stories back into the history they were always present in.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Norfolk Shrieking Pit Mystery

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross (From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane) by Lisa Tuttle (Random House Hydra).

 In this second adventure of the intrepid Victorian private detectives Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. While the daring duo evoke shades of Holmes and Watson with a touch of the supernatural here and there, they are anything put pale imitations. 

While a mysterious murder sets them off on this latest adventure to Norfolk, the story is as much about the denizens coming to terms with an uneasy crossroads between the modern, scientific future and the folkloric, magical past. When a new client falls dead on their doorstep, a young man in apparent health whose heart has given out, the sleuths follow clues to Norfolk, where the victim’s close friend has established a society dedicated to reviving the “ancient religion” of Britain. 

A kidnapped baby, accusations of witchcraft, cunning men and wisewomen steeped in the lore of plants that can cure – or kill – and a tragic love affair lead Jesperson and Lane down a twisted path, past the “shrieking pits” and back to London, through greenhouses filled with exotic, poisonous plants, and to a clergyman’s parlor. Lively, witty, and often unexpected, these stories are a true delight. 

I especially like the deft way the author treads the line between fantasy and reality in a way that heightens the emotional stakes and vividness of the tale.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Marella Sands

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories.Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Marella Sands: In fourth grade, our teacher wrote a sentence on the board first thing in the morning, and we had to use it as the first line of a story. I still have some of those stories, and they are truly terrible in a funny way. My favorite was about me living in a haunted house. The ghost was so powerful, it killed everyone else on my block, so I moved. Apparently, I was a rather practical nine-year-old. Anyway, after that, I never really stopped.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?
MS: A few years ago, a Pakistani man I know introduced me to the game of cricket. He was so excited about it that I guess I just caught the fever, because then I started watching it (also, I read "Cricket for Dummies," which is actually a real thing). For my birthday that year, I asked for a subscription to Willow TV (all cricket, all the time). While I was watching a match and wondering what to do for this story, I suddenly thought, why aren't there more team sports in fantasy stories? Not just mentioned in passing, or set up as a bit of world-building, but introduced as something so integral to the plot, you couldn't have the story without the sport. Almost instantly, I had my four main characters, who play a very cricket-like game in a vaguely West African-like land. 

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
MS: The first two that come to mind are Richard Adams and J.R.R. Tolkien, because the two books I couldn't put down for years were Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings -- sweeping fantasy stories that just carried me away into worlds so completely I was almost distraught I couldn't actually go there. If I lived in the world of Fahrenheit 451 and had the opportunity to be a book, I'm not sure I could choose between them.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Children of the Spaceship City

Edward Willett The Cityborn. DAW July 2017
One thing I adore about good YA is the agency of the young people. That is, they make judgments, set their own goals, and demonstrate both persistence and resourcefulness. That describes the two central characters in this dystopic-sf novel. Having landed on a distant planet, a spaceship gradually transforms into a city, and then decays. 

While the officers clone themselves and then use nanobots to pass on their memories and skills to the next generation, the Captain has for various reasons not passed to new bodies. And as the Captain’s vital signs sink ever lower, so do the parallel vital functions of the City. A desperate scheme results in the creation of two children, in vitro offspring of the Captain and First Officer, who are then theoretically capable of taking the place of the dying Captain and restoring the City. 

One of the children is kidnapped by a rebel underground, dedicated to overthrowing the class tyranny of the Officers; now a young adult, he is joined by the other, who narrowly escapes being turned into a mind-controlled Captain. The two are catapulted into a quest filled with action, suspense, and the emotional turmoil of carving out an individual identity in a world determined to control and exploit them. An exciting, absorbing read for adult as well as YA readers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Today's Moment of Serenity

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, View of Livadia,1861 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interviews: Lawrence Watt-Evans

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Lawrence Watt-Evans: I always wanted to be one. I started to think seriously about it in second grade, when my teacher’s response to my very first creative writing assignment was, “Maybe you’ll be a writer someday!”
My parents convinced me that it wasn’t a likely way to make a living, though, so even though I kept writing I figured it would just be a hobby -- until my stories started selling, and I couldn’t find a decent day job. I wound up making my living as a writer for thirty-some years.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?
LWE: I wanted to play with stereotypes and expectations a little -- and I wanted to be in this anthology, having failed to deliver for previous volumes in the series!

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing? What about them do you find inspiring?
LWE: L. Sprague de Camp and Terry Pratchett have been big influences; both have a knack for looking at the trappings of fantasy and considering how they would work for actual human beings, rather than mythic archetypes. Others have been, in no particular order, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Forester (from whom I got my love of interior monologues), Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber Jr., Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.L. Hales, Robert W. Chambers, Anne McCaffrey, Leigh Brackett...

DJR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?
LWE: I write what I like, what interests me. It differs from other fantasy because I’m not particularly interested in nobility, honor, derring-do, the nature of evil, and so on, but in how people muddle through.

DJR: How does your writing process work?
LWE: Damned if I know. I sit at the computer and type.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A New Twist on Witches in New Orleans

Rich in history and the atmosphere of New Orleans, tJ. D. Horn's The King of Bones and Ashes follows the loves and feuds of two powerful families of witches features intricate characters, well-thought-out lore, and plot twists galore. I visited New Orleans in 2011, and many of the scenes evoked hours spent exploring the French Quarter and beyond. 

Nowadays the allure of witches (or other magical/supernatural beings) in the “Big Easy,” also known as the City of Second Chances, has given rise to many depictions in print and visual media. All too often, however, the portrayals are superficial and derivative, and are poorly integrated with the city’s history and culture. Not so J. D. Horn’s The King of Bones and Ashes.  I loved the sense of dynastic progression, of the increasingly desperate tactics to slow the disappearance of magic, of the witches’ attempt to counteract Katrina’s damage, not to mention the complex system of witchy magic. 

I also liked that the circularity of the story; instead of having everything laid out clearly, I had to put pieces together in more active reading. It’s not an easy read, but that makes it all the more satisfying. The actual mystery enhances the mysteriousness of the setting and drama.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Today's Moment of Serenity

Edward Cucuel (August 6, 1875, San Francisco – April 18, 1954, Pasadena, California), was an American-Born Painter who lived and worked in Germany.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interviews: Pat MacEwen

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from iBookKindleKoboNook. Table of contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Pat MacEwen: Born that way, apparently. I started doing crayon drawings and telling stories about them when I was four, and put my toy giraffe through endless adventures that cost him one of his four rubber hooves and all of his dignity, but he never seemed to mind very much. I read everything in sight, including cereal boxes, and spent a lot of time playing pinochle with my older relatives. They gossiped like mad and told stories non-stop, and I learned all about how they survived the Great Depression, World War II, the government’s Indian boarding schools, and sometimes each other. At 13, I was given a box full of paperbacks by an older cousin during a cross-country road trip, and promptly fell in love with the works of Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Terry Carr, Doc Smith, and dozens more. Eventually, I wondered whether I could ever do anything half as good, and decided to try. Probably doesn’t hurt that the MacEwen clan has been spawning bards and shanachies for a thousand years and more.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?
PM: My son-in-law runs EuCon – an annual Comic-Con that takes place in Eugene, Oregon every fall. I met one of their celebrity guests last year – Deep Roy – a diminutive actor who has played Yoda and all of the Oompa Loompas, and has had many other roles in science fiction and fantasy films. The man has a delightful sense of humor and such a deep and abiding intelligence, he intrigued the hell out of me. It so happened I’d already run across a biography of Lord Minimus, and I found myself imagining Deep Roy in the role of that valiant though very short cavalier. And then I got to wondering what would happen if the smallest man in British history were to encounter the Little People during the height of the English Civil War. Now I’m working on a screenplay about his further adventures in France, with the Court-in-Exile.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
PM: Poul Anderson is one of my personal heroes. He built so many amazing aliens and alien cultures, and he did it with so much humanism, you couldn’t help but sympathize with them, including the villains! All while using the most amazing bits of new scientific information. Thomas Costain wrote excellent historical fiction and non-fiction (especially his series about the Plantagenets) that did much the same for the Middle Ages C.J. Cherryh has taken me deeper into plausible but totally alien minds and cultures than I ever thought was possible. Pat Conroy and Connie Willis are two very different authors who have succeeded in reducing me to tears with both the screwball comedy and the sheer heartbreaking pathos in their stories, and they’ve each of them done it within the course of a single book. So that’s who I’d like to be when I grow up – one of those writers.